Here’s our guide to ten healthy foods that should be in your store cupboard. Some you may already have; others are less obvious! These foods can all be used to make a variety of healthy meals with the addition of fresh vegetables – and meat, fish or eggs if you eat them.
1. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a fantastic alternative to vegetable oils for cooking. Whereas standard vegetable oils such as sunflower oil can form harmful substances when heated to high temperatures, this doesn’t happen to the fats in coconut oil. It can be used for roasting vegetables, stir-frying, in baking as an alternative to butter, and even as a spread on crackers or oatcakes. See our previous post on 10 Great Uses for Coconut Oil for more on the different types of coconut oil and their uses (odourless coconut oil can be great for cooking, while the ‘virgin’ oils better for using as a spread).
2. Tinned sardines
Tinned sardines are brilliantly versatile, convenient and healthy. Because they’re a great source of protein, they make a good basis for a quick healthy lunch or breakfast – or even evening meal if you get in late and don’t have time to cook. Of course, they’re also high in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which help to keep your heart healthy, your blood pressure in check and even play a vital role in brain and eye health. If you eat them with the soft bones (so not the filleted versions), they also provide lots of calcium – as much as a small glass of milk.
Try mashing drained sardines with a couple of teaspoons of tomato purée, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt and a touch of cayenne pepper. Then heap onto a slice of rye bread/toast or a few oatcakes for a quick meal or snack, or eat with a salad.
3. Olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is another traditional fat that everyone agrees is a healthy choice! It’s a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with heart health as well as reduced risk of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases . As well as the benefits of the fats themselves, olive oil contains other active compounds including phenols – like those found in other vegetables and fruits – that may account for some of its health benefits. The phenols in olive oil may even be beneficial for bone health! 
Olive oil is a fantastic basis for dressings and dips, or for drizzling directly over salads. Ideally, it shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures – so prefer coconut oil for roasting or frying.
4. Tomato purée and/or passata
One of the reasons tomatoes may be so beneficial for our health is their content of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid associated with antioxidant activity, heart health , prostate health in men  and even with skin protection . And rather than eating fresh tomatoes, tomato purée may be the best way to get your lycopene. Not only does it contain more, but the lycopene may be more ‘bioavailable’ (better absorbed or able to reach the bloodstream and tissues) than that in fresh raw tomatoes .
Tomato purée can be used to make healthy homemade ketchup – mix together tomato purée, apple juice, apple cider vinegar and sea salt, with cayenne if you like it spicy! And both purée and passata are handy to keep in the cupboard for making meat sauces such as Bolognese, lasagne or chilli – or vegetable-based equivalents.
Keep a bag or two of your favourite nuts in the cupboard. A recent review study found that eating around 20 grams of nuts a day (one to two tablespoons) is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and other causes of early death . They’re rich in healthy fats, minerals such as magnesium and manganese, and B vitamins. Because nuts are also a good source of protein and are very low in carbohydrates, they make an excellent basis for a snack – combine with apple slices or a handful of berries.
As well as adding delicious flavour to your meals, certain spices are associated with health benefits. We’ve already written about the benefits of turmeric, which has become ‘the spice of the moment’. Other potential health-giving spices include ginger, which has been found to have natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving action [8,9]; and cinnamon, which may help with blood sugar control [10,11] and have anti-microbial activity .
7. Pasta made with pulses
Love your pasta? Try swapping it for one made with beans, lentils, chickpeas or split peas. They’re higher in protein than standard pastas, with some – such as Clearspring’s Green Pea & Quinoa Pasta – providing over 20g of protein per 100g (compared to around 8 to 13 grams in grain-based pastas). This means they can fill you up for longer and, because they’re also lower in carbohydrates, should help to balance your blood sugar too, providing more sustained energy. They’re usually gluten-free too, although check the label if you’re gluten-sensitive, as some may be combined with wheat.
Oatcakes are a good staple alternative to breads and crackers. They can be easier to digest for those who are sensitive to wheat, gluten or yeast in breads (look for specific gluten-free oatcakes if gluten-sensitive). They can make a great snack with a spoonful of hummus, cream cheese or nut butter on top.
9. Apple cider vinegar
Another versatile store cupboard ingredient for making sauces and dressings. Some research suggests that apple cider vinegar may help to reduce appetite and keep blood sugar in check , which may help with weight control.
10. Tamari sauce
Tamari is a wheat-free soya sauce, so a good option for those who are intolerant to wheat or gluten. A dash of tamari can be a great way to easily add flavour to homemade salad dressings, sauces, stews, curries, chilli and more.
- Mayo Clinic. Mediterranean diet for heart health – Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801 [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017].
- García-Martínez O et al. Phenolic Compounds in Extra Virgin Olive Oil Stimulate Human Osteoblastic Cell Proliferation. PLoS One. 2016 Mar 1;11(3):e0150045.
- Cheng HM et al. Tomato and lycopene supplementation and cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Atherosclerosis. 2017 Feb;257:100-108.
- Edinger MS, Koff WJ. Effect of the consumption of tomato paste on plasma prostate-specific antigen levels in patients with benign prostate hyperplasia. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2006 Aug;39(8):1115-9.
- Stahl W et al. Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. J Nutr. 2001 May;131(5):1449-51.
- Gärtner C et al. Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Jul;66(1):116-22.
- Aune D et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med. 2016 Dec 5;14(1):207.
- van Breemen RB et al. Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors in ginger (Zingiber officinale). Fitoterapia. 2011 Jan;82(1):38-43.
- Altman RD, Marcussen KC. Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8.
- Solomon TP, Blannin AK. Effects of short-term cinnamon ingestion on in vivo glucose tolerance. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2007 Nov;9(6):895-901.
- Bandara T et al. Bioactivity of cinnamon with special emphasis on diabetes mellitus: a review. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 May;63(3):380-6.
- Bouderbala, H et al (2016). [Anti-obesogenic effect of apple cider vinegar in rats subjected to a high fat diet]. Annales de Cardiologie et d’Angéiologie, 65(3), pp.208-213.